Here I am being prompted to write another post because of something I saw on Facebook. I am not sure if that means I should spend less time on Facebook or not, because it does lead me to think of some important topics. Growth mindset is a topic that comes up often in educational discussions these days. Growth mindset for teachers, growth mindset for students…what does that even mean?
The particular post I was reading on Facebook was a person venting out about city planning here in the City of Estevan. I am not sure why people continue to vent things out on social media using a string of curse words to get their points across, but that is the subject of another post perhaps. The thing about this post and the number of comments that followed, was the attitude that we can just post something, get others to join in a negative tirade and then feel that some positive change might come out of that. I know schools and school principals are sometimes the target of these posts and if the truth be known, most times we don’t even see them. It is difficult to promote positive action or change when the right people do not even receive your thoughts or concerns, which is probably what happened in this case.
I have to wonder, if we stopped for a moment before venting out the negative and spent some time, sharing positive solutions or possibilities, what a difference that might make. I don’t know much about city planning and even though the railway tracks going down the middle of the city cause me some frustration at times, it seems to me, if I want a voice in decisions, I need to get involved in a positive way.
I came across a blog post on the weekend titled, “Quit Complaining”. It caught my eye, because it was exactly what I was thinking in response to the Facebook post. The author of the blog post explained that complaining negatively impacts the energy of the complainer and everyone around that person. The post goes on to say, after 30 minutes, the effects of complaining actually start to change the ability to problem solve.
“Exposure to negativity for 30 minutes or more impacts the neurons in the hippocampus, impairing the ability to problem solve. We give away our power and become victims when we focus on complaints over solutions.”
In my last post, I mentioned the opportunity I had, recently, to listen to Tom Hierck speak on student engagement with the rest of our school division admin team. Our grades 4-12 teachers then spent the day listening to him at the beginning of October. One of the messages he left with us was the opportunity we all have to judge the actions of others in a positive or negative light.
For example, the person who cuts you off in traffic…
Is that person really being a jerk, who is irresponsible or has that person simply made an error in judgement that we all make at different times while driving? Mr. Hierck was trying to get the point across that we should consider giving the benefit of the doubt in these simple situations and moving on without misplacing frustration and energy on negative paths that truly lead no where.
It makes sense when you think about it. The time spent stewing in frustration or anger is lost on the person who cut you off, but takes away from the ability we have to move on with our day and focus our energy on much more important things.
Having a growth mindset, seems to be the ability to focus on the process of learning rather than the fixed end result that cannot be changed. Is it possible there might better way to do something I have done a million times, if I stay open to the possibilities? Can I truly stop and consider someone else’s perspective and be a better, more informed person because of it? Can I make a mistake and look at it as a pathway for growth, rather than a failure? Can I tackle something difficult and not give up in the middle of the struggle? Can I look at my weaknesses as opportunity for growth and not be discouraged?
So, what does this mean for students in the classroom?
We used to believe that intelligence and ability was fixed. A sort of-you either have it or you don’t when it came to intelligence and talent. When I was in school, we were all given intelligence tests and our overall ability was judged looking only at that number. Over the years, research has shown us that is not the case. All of our students have the ability to grow in different areas given the right circumstances and the right motivation.
I was watching a TED Talk presentation by Carol Dweck, a Stanford University, psychologist who specializes in research studies based on motivation and “growth mindset”. In her presentation, she is talking about the power of “not yet”. Her theory seems to be, we are always on a continuum of growth towards achieving our goals. Students who have been taught to have a growth mindset, look at challenges much differently than those who are just aiming for a passing grade or the end result. Students with a growth mindset will not give up when given a difficult challenge, but rather look to it as being “not yet” there.
She offers many studies that show having a growth mindset can make a huge difference for our students and their ability to problem solve. Her advice to parents and teachers is to stop telling our students how wonderful they are.
Now, we might say… “What? We are trying to build up their self-esteem?
She does not want us to stop praising them, she just wants us to think about how and what we are praising. Instead of always telling our children and students that every little thing they accomplish is the best, she believes we should praise the struggle, the quest for understanding, the process needed to stretch and solve problems.
The “Quit Complaining” blog post, I mentioned earlier, suggested a quick strategy that might benefit us as adults, but seems to me could be a habit that might benefit our students as well. The strategy was to simply add the word “so” to the end of our complaints or frustrations followed by the actions needed to make a positive difference.
If we go back to the complainer I mentioned at the beginning of this post, it might go something like this…
I get so frustrated by many of the decisions made by the city planners, so I think I should try to contact my city counselor and explain my frustrations and find out why certain decisions are made or think about running for city council so I would have a voice in the decisions that are made.
Now, I know, that sounds a bit optimistic, but again, if we do nothing, we get nothing.
Is it possible to change our language in classrooms to promote positive mindsets in our students? Rather than praising the student for doing well, can we instead, praise the process or the struggle? When a student makes a mistake or does not quite achieve to the level he or she needs to be at, can we promote a “not yet” there atmosphere instead of a “you failed” atmosphere? Can we focus on the problem solving or seeking positive solution, type actions in our classrooms, rather than on end results?
We cannot do this alone. Like most things that happen in schools, we need parents and families to be an equal part of the team. Can parents also promote the idea that learning and growth is a process and perhaps it is okay if we are “not yet” there, “so” how are we going to get there? Our first response may be to solve problems for our children, but imagine the benefit to them learning to solve problems for themselves.
Learning from the struggle.
Our students do not need to be praised for every move they make. They do not need a reward for every step they take. Instead, they need encouragement to build a growth mindset that will take them into the future. If we model and encourage growth mindset, we could be well on our way to having a group of young adults that might not be discouraged when challenged and might not expect to be rewarded for completing the simplest task.
Imagine what those young adults might accomplish.